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Falling for you, Iguazu Falls.

15 Feb

Boarding the bus bound for Montevideo, we’re like sugar-loaded children on their way home from the Royal Show. All chittering and chirping, high from too many rides and too much fun on the ranch, reciting extravagant, exaggerated stories of aversions overcome, our united decibels inducing a stern and perilous look from the lady in front so familiar I decided she must be a mother with 3 children.

The skyscraper landscape looms near and we take our place in the bumper nudging traffic before heaving our dusty backpacks, still faintly smelling of cowpat soup, into our hostel for the night – Escuela de Rock. This joint is cool – if you like that punky, backstreet, let-me-play-air-guitar-before-sleeping-on-a-flea-ridden-mattress-in-the-garden, sort of place. Normally a lover of rock music, this time its earth-shattering loudness is too much, too soon after the tranquility of our ranch experience (not to mention the warm beer). By the time the owner began to regale us with announcements of top electronic dance parties for the evening, I feel like a cherry on the top of melting ice-cream, slowly sliding of the fleeting perch of perfection to bop around in a sea of cold reality. Looking forward to moving on to the Iguazu Falls, we refuel on a cheap dinner, and even cheaper wine, before crawling into bed.

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Panagea Estancia. Peering through the childhood window.

10 Feb

When I was child, I lived next-door to my nonno and nonna, in little known, sleepy, Hope Valley, Western Australia. My grandparents cleared their land themselves and built their house by hand – remember, this was circa 60 years ago and there was very little machinery back then. It was not a commercial farm with 1000 hectares like Juan’s is, but it was big enough to house a fair few cows, many many goats, chickens, ducks, and the occasional couple of sheep. There were trees for climbing, trees for peaches, figs, locusts, lemons, even a pecan tree, to complement a vegetable garden filled with every delicious morsel you can think of – lettuce, chicory, carrot, onion, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, strawberries – you name it, it grew there and I ate it. My grandparents lived simply and happily; they lived off the produce from their animals and the land, only needing the supermarket to buy the occasional bit of flour, salt, sugar and staples for every Italian household – balsamic vinegar & EVOO. They made their own sausages, tomato sauce and cheese. And, of course, my nonna was a fabulous cook.

At the end of their paddocks was my Aunty Viola’s property. They had horse stables – many of their own, and many that other people kept on their property.

I spent my childhood darting between the two places – getting up at 5am to help my nonno feed the goats, collecting the eggs (with my nonno’s accent, not to be confused with ‘axe’) from the chicken coup, climbing up the ladder to the top of the duck shed to eat the figs from the tree, jumping in cow patties with my gumboots, and my cousin Kate teaching me everything she knows about riding – from saddling up, to riding a pony bareback (falling off every time), learning to jump, getting bucked off, racing Kate’s horses (one was an ex-race horse) and scaring ourselves to death when they bolted.

Daring adventures and dirty fingernails. This was my childhood.

I tell you all this because it is through these eyes I looked, as we stayed on the estancia, and the reason why I loved it so much. Being part of this simple life was like peering through the window to my childhood. Thank you to my family for giving me such happy memories, and thank you to Juan and Susann for making us a part of your home, showing us true gaucho, Uruguayan life and the opportunity for me to experience those happy memories all over again.

Now, if you’ve been bowled over by my nostalgic trip back in time, and think life is a peach on the estancia, you may be surprised. You’re expected to contribute and pull your weight, so if you are to survive your stay on this ranch, here’s a couple of tips:

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Panagea Estancia. Old dog, new tricks.

10 Feb

Setting down ‘The Alchemist’ an interesting short story by Paulo Coelho, I find myself slightly concerned at having seen two serious crashes during the bus journey from Punta del Este to Tacaurembo in the Uruguay’s north. What are the omens – should we carry on? Should we get off the bus? Was this horse caper really such a good idea? The latter, for me, seems the most obvious as I have a childhood aversion to riding horses which stems back to my first and only experience in the UK. My sister’s beast managed to cover a distance of just 100m before tripping over its own feet (hooves apparently) thus neatly depositing me in an instant, in a heap.

“Why would I want to ride a horse, they’re just dumb animals” I would state at every given opportunity whilst chucking a leg over whichever motorbike was parked in the garage…. Bikes have owned me completely for the last 10 years, and as I find myself in the alarming position of being without one in Australia I have been casually trawling the net for the last couple of months; quietly comparing, researching until there it was, I’d found it; a 1996 Triumph Speed Triple (just to clarify, the 6 speed and gold brakes version) I casually mentioned the bike and its unique qualities to a bemused Kelly, umming and arring for 3 weeks before deciding that I was unlikely to ever find a better example. Thus, as we left civilization, mobile coverage and internet access behind, I fired off an enquiry as a potentially interested buyer – I wouldn’t find out for 5 days whether I would be getting a new toy, it was like being a child on December the 20th.

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